“Monster-In-Law” is a
terrible mistake. The movie stars
Jane Fonda, the articulate woman who has written the fine new memoir, “My Life
So Far.” Fonda seems propelled in
life, in the book, and now in the movie, by an irrepressible enthusiasm.
What she may not realize is that hers is such an intelligent, provocative
voice that there is simply no need to transform herself into an embarrassing
camp figure. She picked the wrong
script for her return to the screen. The
movie played, when I saw it, to deathly silence in the theater.
Comedies of this kind work only if somewhere under all the wisecracks and
bickering there is at least a dollop of good will.
There is no good will here, not in the script, not among the actors.
There is no wink in anyone’s eye.
Playing Viola Fields, de-throned television interviewer, Fonda goes over
the top from the beginning. We are
led to believe that Viola’s natural state is a kind of terminal temper
tantrum, that the only time we hear her normal voice is when she is faking it,
trying to make nice. A two-hour
temper tantrum is simply unendurable.
The cause of all the fuss? Viola’s
son Kevin (Michael Vartan) is a doctor with so little credibility as such that
you would run from him in a hospital. On
first sight – jogging on the beach – he
looks like a nice young guy. But a
doctor? A lover?
A husband? A son-in-law?
Kevin is a bystander in his own life, an observer with no real connection
to his fiancé, his mother, or any of the others who cross his path.
He is a mere cipher, and that leaves a void at the center of the film
since he is the person Viola and Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) are fighting over.
Who wants to fight over a cipher? At
first glance it’s a tale of a mother who can’t let go, but Fonda’s
nerve-shattering performance makes innuendo and subtlety, even horselaughs,
Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez indulge in a throat-scratching catfight
that is not a sight to remember. Ms.
Lopez comes across as insipid, certainly not a threat worthy of Fonda’s shrill
wrath. For most of the film, Fonda
rages against empty air. Wanda
Sykes (who plays Ruby, Viola’s assistant) steals the movie, which is a little
like stealing nickels from a parking meter, but even she has to work with weak
lines. As she telegraphs each
verbal punch with great panache, you wait for the big punch line, and what comes
out instead is a limp letdown. The
premise of a difficult mother-in-law is tried and true, but tried and true needs
snappy writing and this script lets all the actors down.
About that dollop of necessary good will, it’s nowhere to be seen.
There is instead a mean spirit inhabiting the lines and the characters’
relationships, and that never works.
Copyright (c) Illusion
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